THE MOST TERRIBLE STREET IN LONDON

‘The notorious stretch in Spitalfields was somewhere that boasts a murder on average once a month, of a murder in every house. And one house at least, a murder in every room.’

Laid out in 1674, Spitalfields was London’s premier silk weaving district. And by the 18th century Dorset Street was already looking ramshackle. In the 19th century–when the trade was fading away–rambling, dirty lodging houses dominated it. They even covered former gardens so the landlords could squeeze even more people into their accommodation.

The authorities left the inhabitants to their own devices. ‘Police officers go down it in pairs,’ the Mail added. ‘Hunger walks prowling in its alleyways, and the criminals of tomorrow are being bred there today.’

On the wall of the Ten Bells pub, across the road from Spitalfields Market. There’s a Victorian tiled mural depicting the area in the mid-18th century. Back then the area was at the height of its prosperity as London’s premier silk weaving district. One scene depicts a prosperous-looking gent and lady ‘visiting a weaver’s shop’; it shows them inspecting cloth.

Silk weaving was not the only industry in Spitalfields–Truman’s brewery had operated since 1669 and Spitalfields Market was expanding in the 18th century–however its fall from grace was a bitter blow for the neighbourhood. Some people who were out of work turned to crime and prostitution to keep a roof over their heads. Others starved to death.

A vivid description of crime and vice in Dorset Street is given in Ralph L. Finn’s 1963 memoir of a Jewish boyhood in the East End: ‘It was a street of whores. There is, I always feel, a subtle difference between a whore and a prostitute. At least we used to think so. Prozzies were younger, and more attractive. Whores were debauched old bags. It teemed with nasty characters–desperate, wicked, lecherous, razor-slashing hoodlums. No Jews lived there. There were pubs every few yards. Bawdy houses every few feet. It was peopled by roaring drunken fighting-mad killers.’

Many Irish settlers, fleeing the potato famine of the 1840s, arrived in the area in search of work. This put a massive burden on East End housing and as early as the 1830s there were reports of serious overcrowding.

In reaction to demand, lodging houses, including ones in Dorset Street, sprung up to provide for those needing places to live. These places offered accommodation nightly and frequented by those on the margins of society, including criminals and people who chose not to work.

Soon the accommodation in the alleys and courts became overrun with people. Disease spread in the claustrophobic atmosphere and residents turned to crime in order to meet ends meet.

Things got worse when the authorities started demolishing slums, which put pressure on the housing that remained. Merely serving the interests of the landlords who pushed up the rents. One police officer in Spitalfields in late 19th century said of the common lodging houses that ‘the landlords of these places are to my mind, greater criminals than the unfortunate wretches who have to live in them.’

Regardless of its reputation, it still came as an enormous shock. When what is accepted as the fifth and final murder committed by Jack the Ripper, a body was found in Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, on 9 November 1888.

Landlord John McCarthy could not overlook the fact his tenant, Mary Jane Kelly, was six weeks behind with her rent, and decided that it was time to see if Kelly would pay up. He instructed his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, to pay Kelly a visit before she left her room for the day. When Bowyer arrived at 13 Miller’s Court, he knocked on the door several times. Getting no answer, he rounded the corner of the yard to see a couple of glass windowpanes were broken. Reaching in through the broken window, he moved the curtain to see if she was home. The first thing he saw was what looked like two lumps of meat sitting on the bedside table. Looking in further, he spotted a bloody corpse, mangled beyond recognition, with parts strewn all over the blood-soaked bed. 

If you visit Spitalfields today, you won’t find anywhere called Dorset Street. They renamed Dorset Street ‘Duval Street’ on 28 June 1904. In 1920, the Corporation of London purchased Spitalfields Market, and began major rebuilding, which included the demolition of the whole of the north side of Duval Street, including Miller’s Court. The new fruit market opened in 1928. Another new market development in the 1960s resulted in Duval Street becoming a lorry park for the market. The buildings on the south side of Dorset Street were redeveloped as a multi-storey car park in the 1960s. The north side was bounded by the London Fruit and Wool Exchange building, which in later years was used primarily as office space for small businesses and a storage warehouse for an import-export company.

SHOCKING TALES OF LONDON

Stories of poverty, violence, love and hope. Shocking Tales of London takes you on a walk-through London’s horrifying side with an absorbing collection of curious tales from one of the world’s greatest cities. This captivating book is packed with remarkable things you probably didn’t know about England’s capital city. https://amzn.to/3caRhXL

London Crime Fiction Books by Paul Asling

For those who seek a story of crime and love.

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SATURDAY NIGHT IN VICTORIAN LONDON

Victorian London was the largest, most spectacular city in the world. While Britain was experiencing the Industrial Revolution, London was both reaping the benefits and suffering the consequences. In 1800, the population of London was around a million. That number would swell to 4.5 million by 1880. While fashionable areas like Regent and Oxford streets were growing in the west, new docks supporting the city’s place as the world’s trade centre were being built in the east. Perhaps the biggest impact on the growth of London was the coming of the railroad in the 1830s, which displaced thousands and sped up the expansion of the city.

Saturday night was an evening where Victorian Londoners could relax, drink, or enjoy themselves by visiting the market, the theatre, or their local ale house. On Saturday nights, London was filled with many fascinating people. Because Saturday nights were so popular, night watchmen stood in circular timber or stone structures (called watch houses) to observe the local happenings, or they patrolled the streets between 9pm until sunrise. During that time, the night watchman called out the hour, kept a lookout for fires or crime, and ensured the safety of pedestrians, vagrants, and drunks. (The night watchmen would not be replaced by officers known affectionately as ‘bobbies’ years later.)

At night the major London streets were lit with gloomy gas lamps. Side streets may not be lit at all and link bearers were hired to guide travellers to their destinations. Inside, a candle or oil lamp struggled against the darkness. It didn’t matter which way you turned. London in Victorian times was awash with noise. Noisy traffic, industry, street musicians, cries of street-sellers echoed through London. From morning till night, the costermongers could be heard crying their wares and music, whether just the organ-grinder, or the full brass band seemed to surround one night and day.

Street Organs seem to have been the bane of the Victorians’ existence. In part this was because of the noise they created; by the 1860s there were estimated to be over one-thousand organ-grinders in London. But there may be more to it than just noise. From the constant harping upon the ethnic characteristics of the Organ-Grinders, one gains the impression that much of the objection was xenophobic.

Then, there were the bands and musicians; the violinist who imitated barnyard animal, the bell ringers, cellists, street bands (according to one of Mayhew’s informants there were around 250 street bands, not including black minstrel bands). There were English bands, German bands an, bagpipers. There were hurdy-gurdy players and harpists and clarinet players. Assisting the organ-grinder one might see a trained monkey or dancing dog and one could go on almost indefinitely. If it was an instrument that could be played, it was likely to be found on the streets of Victorian London on a Saturday night.

SHOCKING TALES OF LONDON

Stories of poverty, violence, love and hope. Shocking Tales of London takes you on a walk-through London’s horrifying side with an absorbing collection of curious tales from one of the world’s greatest cities. This captivating book is packed with remarkable things you probably didn’t know about England’s capital city. https://amzn.to/3caRhXL

London Crime Fiction Books by Paul Asling

For those who seek a story of crime and love.

THESE BOOKS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT. amzn.to/3l4aQ7h

THE OTHER EAST END RIPPER

‘All the children were abducted off the street, most while running errands for their parents.’

The criminal history of London in the late 19th century is dominated by one man: Jack the Ripper. But he may not have been the only serial murderer stalking the streets of London. During the 1880s and 1890s. A series of children and young adults disappeared in London’s East End. The crimes have never been solved, and it’s not clear whether they were the victims of one person, or of several.

All the victims were abducted off the street, most while running errands for their parents. In many of the cases, suspicious persons were seen in the immediate area of the abduction. In several cases this included a woman.

In April 1881, 14-year-old Mary Seward disappeared while out looking for her missing nephew in West Ham. Newspaper reports of the time claimed a man described as ‘well dressed, but having common, coarse features’ had attempted to abduct children in the area. The following year Eliza Carter, aged 10, vanished from the area and was never seen again. In 1898, five-year-old Mary Voller disappeared while on a shopping errand in Barking to buy linseed oil. She was stabbed several times and her body was found in a flooded ditch.

The high-profile case among the ‘West Ham Vanishings’ was the murder of Amelia Jeffs. This 15-year-old girl disappeared on January 31, 1890, and was found murdered and raped in an empty house in the Portway two weeks later. 15-year-old Amelia was kidnapped on her way to buy fish and chips on West Road. She was raped and strangled before her body was dumped in a cupboard of a newly built unoccupied house.

At the coroner’s inquest, there was a suspicion against Joseph Roberts, the builder who had constructed the terrace of houses in the Portway, and against his father Samuel, who served as night watchman on the premises, but there was not sufficient evidence for either of them to be charged with the murder. Like Amelia, most of the other victims went missing from the streets and were never seen again.

There were often stories of gangs luring children and young adults away for lives of slavery in other large cities. It seems highly improbable this spate of crimes will ever be solved or explained.

The house where Amelia Jeffs’s body was found is still standing and remains something of a gruesome local landmark. Apart from that, the vanishings have largely been forgotten about, with the Jack the Ripper killings taking the attention.

SHOCKING TALES OF LONDON

Stories of poverty, violence, love and hope. Shocking Tales of London takes you on a walk-through London’s horrifying side with an absorbing collection of curious tales from one of the world’s greatest cities. This captivating book is packed with remarkable things you probably didn’t know about England’s capital city. https://amzn.to/3caRhXL

London Crime Fiction Books by Paul Asling

For those who seek a story of crime and love.

THESE BOOKS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT. amzn.to/3l4aQ7h

VICTORIAN LONDON STREET SELLERS

‘The labouring classes would have taken most of their meals in the streets.’

We think of the modern generation as one of ‘fast food’ fed by fast-food chains. The Victorians were also ‘fast food’ consumers, but what they consumed came mainly from individual businesses on the streets of London.Food was available at all hours of the day and night, bought from individual entrepreneurs.

The vendors sold fried fish, hot eels, pickled whelks, sheep trotters, pea soup, hot green peas, penny pies, baked potatoes, cakes, muffins and crumpets, and Chelsea buns. Drinks would have included tea, coffee, ginger beer, lemonade, hot wine, cow’s milk, asses’ milk and occasionally water. In addition, you may have found ‘sherbet’ and other coloured beverages that had no specific name but were introduced to the public as cooling drinks.

The labouring classes would have taken most of their meals in the streets. The primitive and overcrowded conditions under which so many city dwellers were forced to live during the Victorian era meant that for most, there was no facility available for cooking meals. Street food was varied, cheap and tasty, if not nutritious and full of dangerous additives or fouled by human or animal excrement.

Another popular dish sold on the streets was jellied eels. Inexpensive and nutritious, it was a staple in the diet of the Victorian poor. The eels were chopped and boiled in fish stock with assorted herbs and spices. Their naturally gelatinous texture set the stock, and they were ready to be marketed.

On wintry nights you would have seen shivering, emaciated-looking men eating their jellied eels and only parting with the spoon when even the tongue of a dog could not have removed another drop.

The variety of what was available was wide. Journalist Henry Mayhew (25 November 1812–25 July 1887) reported, ‘the coffee-stall supplies a warm breakfast; shell-fish of many kinds tempt to a luncheon; hot-eels or pea-soup, flanked by a potato all hot, serve for dinner; and cakes and tarts, or nuts and oranges, with many varieties of pastry, confectionery, and fruit, woo to indulgence in a dessert; while for supper there is a sandwich, a meat pudding, or a trotter.’

By the mid-nineteenth century, there were thousands of street sellers of food and drink. Mayhew estimated that there were over five hundred sellers of Pea-Soup and Hot Eels and three hundred sellers of Fried Fish. Prices were such that all but the very poorest might eat.

Many other goods were available at the kerbside, such as matches, farthing windmills, flowers, shirt-studs, animals, fruit, vegetables and paper flags. Not only were there goods to be bought to separate the shopper from his or her shillings and pence, but there were also games to be played and many amusements. George Sims, writing at the end of the Victorian era, commented ‘the weighing chair, the shooting gallery, and the try-your-strength machine are to be found by the pavement’s edge.’

For those who were up late or rose early, there were the coffee stalls. Some opened as early as midnight, while others did not start trading until three or four in the morning. The former appealed to ‘fast gentlemen and loose girls,’ while those that opened in the morning were more likely to be frequented by working men.

The street vendors of food and drink continued to be a frequent sight in London until the end of the Victorian Era, and for a good reason. If they served as a kind of outdoor café for the poorest of the poor, they served a substantial portion of London’s population. As late as 1889, Booth estimated that 30 percent of Londoners lived in poverty.

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TALES OF LONDON’S DARKER HISTORY  

Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.  Priced at £1.99 –  https://amzn.to/3ojzJvR

THE LONDON MUSEUM WITH A HEART-BREAKING COLLECTION

‘Of babies taken in by the hospital, about two-thirds died.’

When Thomas Coram returned to London in 1704, it was to a city that was a powerhouse of industry, invention, global trade and wealth. It was also noisy, disease-ridden, polluted, and the site of desperate poverty. The situation for children was bleak with soaring mortality rates. Parents unable to care for their babies because of poverty or illegitimacy had few options, and many abandoned them in the street.

After 17 years of campaigning, Thomas Coram finally received a Royal Charter from King George II in 1739, enabling him to establish the Foundling Hospital to care for and educate some of London’s most vulnerable citizens. From 1741, when the first babies were admitted to 1954 when the last pupil was placed in foster care, the Foundling Hospital cared for and educated around 25,000 children.

The Foundling Museum opened in 2004. They constructed the building at 40 Brunswick Square in the 1930s on the site of the Foundling Hospital and incorporates many architectural features from the original eighteenth-century building.

The Foundling Museum preserves ‘tokens’ left by parents who gave up their children because of poverty or the social stigma of illegitimacy.

The Tokens are incredibly emotional because they speak of a moment of separation and loss for the mother and for the child. They are the everyday objects left by the desperate and destitute mothers in the mid-18th century who delivered their babies into the care of the Foundling Hospital.

Hidden stories unfold through scraps of Georgian life that range from coins, keys, buttons, pieces of fabric. The tokens also include a season ticket to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a pass to the King’s Road, which was a private road in the 18th century, a ticket to a public philosophy lecture, a pot of rouge, and a spyglass for the theatre.

The children’s names were changed within about 24 hours of arriving at the Hospital and in the Museum. There is a wall that lists some names they were given. They named some after Governors–so we have a number named Thomas Coram (the founder of the Hospital)–and Eunice Coram, his wife. There are also William Hogarth’s and some historical characters like Geoffrey Chaucer, Julius Caesar and Walter Raleigh.

The tokens are extraordinary because they really speak to the ordinary lives of 18th century people. The most abject token is a nut. Clearly for the mother, this was all she could afford. They are fascinating objects in their own right, but they are also incredibly poignant because they infuse each one with a sense of hope, because a mother wouldn’t leave a token unless she hoped that one day she could come back to claim her child. Until 1760, when the hospital started issuing receipts for children left in its care, they kept no written records of any sort regarding the mothers and fathers who entrusted their children to the hospital.

As so many of the parents were illiterate, they would not have left a note or written statement as an identifier. A number recorded on a written form on which was also identified babies noted the child’s age, sex, clothing, and identifying marks.

The form, along with whatever tokens were left, were then put in a packet, sealed with wax, and stored until a parent returned to make a claim. With no other method by which to identify and match families, the tokens became, for all intents and purposes, the only tether between parent and child. Of babies taken in by the hospital, about two-thirds died.

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TALES OF LONDON’S DARKER HISTORY  

Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.  Priced at £1.99 –  https://amzn.to/3ojzJvR

VICTORIAN SLUMS

‘In 1887, five out of every six infants to die in Bethnal Green homes were where the entire family shared a bed. Coroners attributed most of these deaths to overlaying, during which a sleeping parent or sibling rolled onto the infant and accidentally smothered it.’

The 19th century was the century of urbanisation, industrialisation and population explosion. Too many people and too little space was the problem.

Society changed from living in mostly rural communities to a society where most people lived in urban areas. In the time of Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain’s population had doubled. In 1851, for the first time in history, more people lived in cities than in rural areas.

The population growth caused many problems that were most severe in the fast-growing cities, especially in London. In 1870, every eight minutes someone died in London and every five minutes a baby was born. This had to lead to space problems eventually, especially as the building industry did not consider the needs of the growing working classes in the cities. 

There are records showing cases in which from three to four adults of both sexes, with many children, were lodging in the same room, and often sleeping in the same bed. In another location, a room was occupied by one man, two women, and two children; and in it was the dead body of a poor girl who had died in childbirth a few days before. The body was stretched out on the bare floor, without shroud or coffin. There it lay in the midst of the living.

One of London’s most notorious slums by the end of the nineteenth century, Old Nichol Slum was located in the east end, between High Street, Shoreditch, and Hackney Road in the north, and Spitalfields in the south. The slum was known locally as “The Sweaters’ Hell” for the artisan workshops, producing furniture for very low pay. The Nichol’s 30 or so streets housed around 5,700 people and had a death rate that was almost double that of neighbouring areas. A quarter of all children born in the Nichol died before their first birthday, and Old Nichol Street itself was described by a local medical officer, as being unfit for human habitation. Damp, overcrowding and the unwholesome air were largely to blame. But so was sheer despair.

In 1887, five out of every six infants to die in Bethnal Green homes where the entire family shared a bed were found to have suffocated. Coroners attributed most of these deaths to ‘overlaying’, during which a sleeping parent or sibling rolled onto the infant and accidentally smothered it. Others, however, suspected that many were intentionally suffocated by desperate mothers with too many mouths to feed.

Records show, 85 Hanbury Street in the East End, was a house with nine rooms, all occupied by different families with an average of seven people in each room. The house had only one toilet, so people favoured the use of chamber pots, which is not surprising by an amount of around 63 people sharing one toilet. The problem was those pots often stayed in the rooms for long periods of time before they were emptied, which is also a reason the sanitary conditions were dreadful.

Another example shows Church Lane in Westminster, where the population living in a row of 27 houses grew from 655 inhabitants to 1,095 within six years. This means that the average number of inhabitants rose from 24 to about 41 per house.

In those days many people moved house repeatedly. Lord Shaftesbury estimated that around 70,000 people did not stay longer than 3 months in one place. Many of them left, leaving their waste, and went to another accommodation. Just as there were many people moving house frequently, there were many homeless. In 1887, the vestry of St. Martin-in-the-Fields had complained about hundreds of homeless sleeping on Trafalgar Square. Although people lived in the worst and most crowded housing, there still was not enough to house all the people in London, particularly affordable accommodation.

The most notorious slums were in East London, however, slums also existed in other parts of London, e.g. St. Giles and Clerkenwell, the Devil’s Acre near Westminster Abbey, Jacob’s Island in Bermondsey and Pottery Lane in Notting Hill.

The Victorian authorities were very happy to hand over the problem of social housing to private landlords. These men and women–often from impoverished backgrounds themselves–were given free rein to control the districts in which they operated, with very little interference. Consequently, they became the ‘godfathers’ of their territory, providing safe houses for criminals, operating brothels and running illegal gambling rackets. Any unwelcome attention from an over-zealous policeman was swiftly dealt with by bribes.

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TALES OF LONDON’S DARKER HISTORY  

Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.  Priced at £1.99 –  https://amzn.to/3ojzJvR

Human Loos

‘When you needed the loo, you looked for the nearest man or woman with a cape and a bucket’

As successive British governments have closed Britain’s once great wealth of public lavatories–London’s loos, until the 1950s, were famous the world over.

London’s magnificent Victorian public toilets were built after The Public Health Act of 1848, called for ‘Public Necessaries to be provided to improve sanitation’.

London’s first public on-street convenience was a gents at 95 Fleet Street; it was opened in February 1852. Another, for ladies, was opened on 11 February at 51 Bedford Street. As well as being a public service, these Public loos had water closets in wooden surrounds. 

The reason London’s magnificent Victorian public loos were built in the first place was simply that governments of the time saw them as essential to the well-being of Londoners. Parliamentarians who knew their history far better than today’s legislators no doubt remembered that right through the Middle Ages and well into the seventeenth century, one of London’s biggest problems was the lack of public loos.

In their houses people simply used a bucket or pot and then threw the contents into the gutter or the Thames. There is much evidence to suggest that many householders–this was certainly true in aristocratic households–simply relieved themselves in the corner of any room they happened to be in.

Out in the streets people relieved themselves wherever they liked, but the more delicate-minded and, of course, women found this unacceptable–the solution was provided by human loos. These were men and women who wore voluminous black capes and carried a bucket.

When you needed the loo, you looked for the nearest man or woman with a cape and bucket and gave them a farthing. You then sat on the bucket while they stood above you, still wearing the cape but also surrounding you with it.

These were men and women who wore voluminous black capes and carried a bucket. I think you might be ahead of me here, but I will go on. For a farthing you sat on the bucket while they stood above you and enveloped you with their cape, thus protecting your modesty.

Now over 150 years after those pioneering Victorians built public “Halting Stations” your choice is now limited, do you:
1. Go to McDonald’s
2. Illegally use a suitable wall or hedge
3. Brazen it out and use a hotel’s facilities; or
4. Go back to the tried and tested method of a bucket.

Just don’t expect to find a caped crusader.

London Crime Fiction Books by Paul Asling

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TALES OF LONDON’S DARKER HISTORY  

Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.  Priced at £1.99 –  https://amzn.to/3ojzJvR

SO MUCH FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Looking back at history, ask yourself what era you would rather live in more than today. The truth is that people today, on average, are faring much better than they were at any point in history.

The world has seen dramatic improvements over the last couple centuries, including better access to healthcare, less malnutrition less violence, less war, less pollution, more education equality, more human rights, more democracy, and more freedom.

Between 1770 and 1840, more than 35,000 death sentences were thought to have been handed down. In London the death penalty reached its peak during the Georgian period, when the number of capital offences swelled to over two hundred!

It is hard not to see the escalation as a ploy to cut the cost of imprisoning offenders. Citizens of London could be hanged for trivial crimes as the theft of five shillings or impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner.

You might reach the conclusion that life was better in the past. But if you had actually lived in the past, you would not have liked it.

Your partners would have been chosen for you if you had lived in the past. Your elders would have obligated you to partners who benefited them.

You would have felt filthy all the time if you lived in the past. Without hot running water or toilet paper, you would have had that camping-trip feeling your entire life. Your food would have been laced with vermin droppings and your drinking water would bring intestinal worms and more.

Death would have snatched those around you, and people would explain this with theories that made it even scarier. Home wasn’t safe because of famines and routine domestic violence.

Life expectancy has more than doubled in the last 150 years. Child mortality has plummeted in the last 200 years to about 4% of children dying before 5 years old, down from over 40% in 1820. Illiteracy has plunged to 14% today, down from 88% in 1800. Extreme poverty has dropped to about 10% today, down from close to 90% in 1820.

London Crime Fiction Books by Paul:

MY NOVELS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT.

The Carters’: Wars in West London

Family is everything to the Carters’. Alf Carter runs his criminal empire with the help of his two sons Kenny and Billy. But when family is everything the ties that bind might be the deadliest of all. When Billy Carter should feel everything is before him, including the love of his life it’s taken away, when terrifying gangland violence threatens his life.

Bagley’s Lane: Blood On The Streets

After three brutal murders in quick succession. DI Luca Rossi’s catapulted into a world that threatens him and his family’s way of life. With sheer squirm-in-your-seat moments throughout. Bagley’s Lane is a mesmerising, old-fashioned brutal story of loss, obsession and survival.

Love You Till I Die

Billy Pearce is a well-respected heavyweight boxer from London. After his one and only love is taken, his life is thrown into the menace and treachery of London’s criminal underworld. Love You Till I Die is a novel about loyalty and reliability about people that love and care for each other but who, when push comes to shove, will do whatever to protect their own.

LONDON’S LOST ANCIENT RIVERS

Over two hundred years ago, the author Jonathan Swift mentioned the filth in the Fleet river during a storm in a poem:

‘Sweepings from butchers stalls, dung, guts and blood, drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud, dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood’.

There is probably no time in history when London’s waterways were not transformed by human activity. The Domesday book of 1086 records over 6,000 mills and freshwater fisheries on the capital’s rivers, streams and brooks.

One of the most significant offshoots of the Thames was the Fleet river. It once had a broad tidal basin, several hundred feet wide when it reached the Thames, but like many of London’s rivers, it significantly reduced its flow as the city’s population grew. They covered the Fleet during the reconstruction of the city by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire in 1666 and after the Great Stink of 1858. In Ray Street, Farringdon, there is a point where you can hear the waters of the enclosed Fleet. In 1862 the river exploded and burst through, flooding the half-built Metropolitan line.

The river Walbrook in the city of London now runs completely underground and feeds a sewer. Where Walbrook meets Cannon Street, it’s possible to see a small hump in the road. It’s one spot where the long-buried past almost breaks through the skin of modern London. The Walbrook still dribbles onto the foreshore from a pipe just upstream of Cannon Street station.

For centuries London’s lost rivers have been used as open drains, covered in concrete, hidden behind walls and built over. The list includes some of London’s most famous place names, such as the Strand and the Tyburn. Others include the Effra, which rises in Crystal Palace and flows north to the Thames at Vauxhall, the Ravensbourne in south-east London, the Wandle in Croydon, and two tributaries of the Lee near the 2012 Olympic site in east London.

Today the Environment Agency estimates that 70% of London’s 600km river network is covered over. We can only glimpse some in odd places, such as the high-level tunnel that runs above the platform at Sloane Square tube station carrying the Westbourne.

The Tyburn still runs under Buckingham Palace, once so close to its floors, sewage frequently flooded the Georgian kitchens. The Westbourne surfaces to feed the Serpentine in Hyde Park. We can see the hidden rivers in the humps and bumps of alleys following medieval lanes, street names from Knightsbridge in the west to Shoreditch in the east.

Wherever developers have dug, the finds have poured out. Some of these objects were undoubtedly accidental losses, but many were deliberately deposited. The range of objects coming out of the mud over the centuries is astonishing: from Neolithic flint tools, Roman debris, pottery, glassware, animal bones, human teeth, religious curios, relics of war, children’s toys, pins, jewels, buckles, buttons, leather and cloth.

Other finds include Bronze age and mediaeval swords, spearheads and battle-axes. Experts say they were deposited in the ancient rivers as personal offerings or attempting to control the river by divine intervention. Many of the weapons found are usually in good condition, suggesting they were high-value items placed in the rivers, especially for this purpose.

Above is a ‘triple toilet seat’ from the 12th century that allowed locals to defecate directly into a cesspit near Fleet Street. The carved plank of oak was once placed behind a mixed commercial and residential building on Ludgate Hill. The toilet would probably have been shared by shopkeepers and families living and working in the area.

London Crime Thriller Books by Paul:

I share a special love for London, both new and old. If you like London crime books, you will love these gritty thrillers.

MY NOVELS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT.

The Carter’s: Wars in West London

Family is everything to the Carters’. Alf Carter runs his criminal empire with the help of his two sons, Kenny and Billy. But when family is everything, the ties that bind might be the deadliest of all. When Billy Carter should feel everything is before him, including the love of his life, it’s taken away when terrifying gangland violence threatens his life.

Bagley’s Lane: Blood On The Streets

After three brutal murders in quick succession. DI Luca Rossi’s catapulted into a world that threatens him and his family’s way of life. With sheer squirm-in-your-seat moments throughout. Bagley’s Lane is a mesmerising, old-fashioned brutal story of loss, obsession and survival.

Love You Till I Die

Billy Pearce is a well-respected heavyweight boxer from London. After his one and only love is taken, his life is thrown into the menace and treachery of London’s criminal underworld. Love You Till I Die is a novel about loyalty and reliability, about people that love and care for each other but who, when push comes to shove, will do whatever to protect their own.

THE VICTORIAN FALLEN WOMAN

‘In a period obsessed with the idealisation of female virginity, the consequences of sexual experience outside wedlock often resulted in ruin’

In the nineteenth century, femininity held an important position. A woman’s social and cultural role was sanctified, and the woman was protected and defended. But what a woman didn’t adhere to the ideal? A woman deviating from the norm, ‘fallen’ from virtue, was both an outcast and a threat, a victim and a scapegoat. 

The ‘fallen woman’ relentlessly troubled the Victorian world. In a period obsessed with the idealisation of female virginity, the consequences of sexual experience outside wedlock often resulted in ruin. A ‘fallen woman’ could be a prostitute or a woman who had had sex out of wedlock, whether voluntary or against her will–in short, a woman who disobeyed Victorian sexual norms.

The Victorians were obsessed with social status, young women and their virtue. If it was found a woman had given into temptation, and lost her innocence, they categorised her as the ‘fallen woman’. These women were placed at the bottom of society and treated as if they were the lowest of the low. Just because they gave into temptation and didn’t follow society’s rules.

The Victorian age created the flawless picture for home life and marriage. It gave us perfect, devoted mothers and wives, hard-working husbands and adorable children. However, it didn’t show the dark side of marriage. And the double standards of men and women within Victorian society. It had been hidden for years but was accepted.

Married men and women were having affairs. The men could escape the scandal of an affair mostly unscathed, the woman however was not. They would banish the wife from the family home and society as a whole, earning the title of the ‘fallen woman’. So why was this? Many of the married men that were in affairs had two houses. One house had his wife and their children, whilst the other house would have his mistress, and their love children if there were any.

They created anatomical museums hoping to warn the public against illicit sex; they showed what genitalia of both sexes would look like once they had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Even Mrs Beeton contracted syphilis on her honeymoon! It was though that she had contracted because of her husband having an affair. Dr Joseph Kahn’s Anatomical and Pathological Museum in Oxford Street was the 19th century’s best-known museum of anatomy. Founded in 1851, Kahn’s museum was intended to show the wondrous structure of the body and to warn of the harmful consequences to health of abuses that distort or defile its beautiful structure.

Effectively the ‘fallen woman’ is someone that could never be redeemed, this is clear in paintings and literature, as the ‘Fallen Woman’ nearly always dies. Those branded as a ‘Fallen Woman’, were treated in the most shocking ways. Their treatment also emphasised the double standards that were held in Victorian society. It was one rule for men and another rule for women.

In the latter half of the 19th century, many middle-class philanthropists joined the cause to ‘rescue’ women from prostitution. As well as holding ‘meetings’ for women, they provided support as free accommodation, known as penitentiaries. Their aim was to rehabilitate women by providing moral instruction. Many high-profile Victorians including Charles Dickens, Prime Minister William Gladstone and Christina Rossetti, who volunteered at the London Diocesan Penitentiary supported the ‘fallen woman’ cause.

London Crime Thriller Books by Paul:

I share a special love for London, both new and old. If you like London crime books, you will love these gritty thrillers.

MY NOVELS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT.

The Carter’s: Wars in West London

Family is everything to the Carters’. Alf Carter runs his criminal empire with the help of his two sons, Kenny and Billy. But when family is everything, the ties that bind might be the deadliest of all. When Billy Carter should feel everything is before him, including the love of his life, it’s taken away, when terrifying gangland violence threatens his life.

Bagley’s Lane: Blood On The Streets

After three brutal murders in quick succession. DI Luca Rossi’s catapulted into a world that threatens him and his family’s way of life. With sheer squirm-in-your-seat moments throughout. Bagley’s Lane is a mesmerising, old-fashioned brutal story of loss, obsession and survival.

Love You Till I Die

Billy Pearce is a well-respected heavyweight boxer from London. After his one and only love is taken, his life is thrown into the menace and treachery of London’s criminal underworld. Love You Till I Die is a novel about loyalty and reliability, about people that love and care for each other but who, when push comes to shove, will do whatever to protect their own.